Omicron, Testing and Vaccine News: Live Updates on Covid-19

Credit…Victor J Blue for the New York Times

A wave of omicron cases may be peaking in the northeastern United States, but the number of Covid-19 patients is at an all-time high and is rising, overwhelming hospitals whose staff have been hollowed out by the coronavirus.

Public health leaders warn that while the number of Americans who become infected each day remains dangerously high, there is no guarantee the population will build up sufficient natural immunity to hasten the day when it does Virus becomes a manageable part of everyday life.

dr Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, was asked Monday at the online World Economic Forum if this could be the year it happens. “I would hope that’s the case,” he said, “but that would only be the case unless we get another variant that evades the immune response.”

dr Fauci said the evolution of the pandemic is still impossible to pin down. “The answer is we don’t know,” he said.

The United States is averaging over 790,000 new cases per day, a tally that included an artificially low number on Monday, when many states didn’t release new data because of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. The number of deaths now exceeds 1,900 a day, up 54 percent over the past two weeks.

Even before the holiday weekend, daily cases in New York and other northeastern states had peaked. Cases in the region peaked on Jan. 10-11, according to a New York Times database.

Source: State and local health authorities. Daily Cases is the number of new cases reported each day. The 7-day moving average is the average of the past seven days of data.

Though scientists believe Omicron may cause less serious illness than previous variants, the sheer number of cases has sparked a tsunami of patients seeking help. Hospitals are under tremendous stress, struggling to manage staffing shortages that force difficult decisions about whose care to prioritize.

The average number of Americans hospitalized with the coronavirus is 157,000, a 54 percent increase in two weeks. And the number could continue to rise for some time: experts say that data on deaths and hospitalizations tend to lag pure case numbers by about two weeks. The hospitalization figures include people who have tested positive for the virus after being admitted for conditions unrelated to Covid.

The Omicron surge is hitting understaffed hospitals, where many workers have fallen ill with Covid-19 and others who have quit under the pressure of the pandemic have not been replaced.

Intensive care units were occupied an average of 82 percent in the week ended Jan. 13, according to a New York Times database. In Oklahoma City, four hospitals issued a statement Monday that they had no intensive care beds available.

After last week’s US Supreme Court ruling approving the Biden administration‘s vaccination mandate for healthcare workers, hospitals braced themselves for possible resistance and further staff shortages.

And while it’s too early to know how this record-breaking wave will shape the pandemic, it will certainly have some repercussions, said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

“In due course, immunity to Omicron (or boosters, or both) will wane and breakthrough infections will be possible,” he wrote in a text message. “But we expect them to be milder. This is not “herd immunity” because outbreaks are possible. However, their consequences will be much less severe.”

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